Life of a Sportsaholic

This blog is intended to be insight into my life as an irrational, stats-driven, obsessive sports fan in Boston. I am a fan of all types of sports with an emphasis on Boston teams and am a proud UConn alum.

Tag: detroit tigers

J.D. Martinez: Significant Impact or Waste of Money?

Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports

After months of speculation and stalling, the Red Sox finally agreed to terms with the #1 free agent power hitter on the market. J.D. Martinez signed a 5-year, $110 million contract with the Red Sox on the first day of full squad workouts in Fort Myers. The contract was less than the original asking price and is front-loaded with 2 built-in opt-outs, which makes it reasonable (if that’s possible) for both parties involved. Beyond the dollars, the bigger question is around impact. Does J.D. Martinez help to make the Red Sox a serious contender in 2018? The short answer is yes…but.

Let me start by saying that I could just as easily see J.D. Martinez flourish in the friendly confines of Fenway Park as I could see him take a nose-dive into the Charles River. He’s one of the harder hitters to figure out, in my opinion, because he doesn’t have a long history of success. Everyone has been talking about his huge 2017, but 29 of his 45 HRs came in just 62 games after being traded from the Detroit Tigers to the Arizona Diamondbacks. That’s a tremendous stretch, but the likelihood he has another stretch even close to that in his career is very low. I look at 2017 as being a bit of an anomaly for J.D., but did display his raw power potential. The Red Sox brought him in as a middle-of-the-lineup power bat, but will he produce like a middle-of-the-lineup bat?

The positives first. In 3 full seasons with the Tigers (2014 through 2016), Martinez averaged 134 games played, 551 plate appearances, .299 average, .357 slugging percentage, 28 HRs, and 82 RBIs per year. By any account, those are really solid numbers for a power bat in the 3-5 hole in the lineup. If that’s the J.D. we see in Boston, I think most fans would be happy with his performance. For perspective, the Red Sox won 93 games in 2017 without having a single player hit more than 24 HRs (24 – Mookie Betts) and just 1 player with a higher slugging percentage (.369 – Dustin Pedroia). Given those averages, J.D. would be the best hitter in an already strong lineup.

On the negative side, there are definitely some consistency concerns. Of the 3 full years in Detroit, J.D.’s power was inconsistent, hitting  23 HRs in 2014, 38 in 2015, and just 22 in 2016. He played in 158 games in 2015 compared to 123 in ’14 and 122 in ’16, but that’s a huge 15-16 HR swing year-to-year, even with more at-bats. If the Red Sox get ’14 or ’16 Martinez, that’s concerning. The Red Sox don’t need another 20-25 HR hitter in the lineup (they had 4 in 2017), they need a feared 30+ HR hitter who can lift the pathetic overall team power out of the basement.

Age is another factor I’m concerned about. According to an Alex Speier article  in the Boston Globe looking at age correlation with offensive power in January 2015, “…after turning 30, players experience a clear and steady decline in the likelihood they’ll be productive offensive contributors.” The article looked at WAR (Wins Above Replacement) and it showed a 50% decrease in 33-year old players delivering a 2.0 WAR that players aged 26-29. What does this all really mean? J.D. may be in later part of his peak and have a few strong power years left, or he could be primed to start sliding down the backside of the hill in 2018.

The other less concerning piece for Martinez is his streaky nature, which is not uncommon with power bats. Taking 2015 as an example, he hit 14 of his 38 total HRs in a 20-game stretch in June and July, hitting just 4 in his final 34 games of the season. I imagine some of the late season struggles were around playing in 158 games, by far the most of his career, making it a lesser overall concern. The Red Sox will likely mitigated some of this by giving Martinez rest  when splitting some time with Hanley Ramirez in the DH spot. His other massive power streak, mentioned above, came last year when he hit 29 HRs in 62 games with the Diamondbacks.

My overall approach is cautious optimism. The Red Sox desperately needed to add a power bat to the lineup given their struggles in that department in 2017 and they got the best power bat available on the market without depleting their thin prospect system. It’s hard to argue against that. In addition, they need several players on their roster to have better 2018 results than 2017, Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts at the top of the list, but if 2015 or 2017 Martinez is in the lineup most nights, the pressure will be reduced on everyone else and the Red Sox could be legitimate contenders in 2018.

Rick “Cy Young” Porcello

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After a 9-15 forgettable 2015 season, it looked like the Red Sox signing of Rick Porcello was going to be a flop. Thankfully for the Red Sox and Porcello he finished 2015 stronger than he began and took that momentum right into a stellar 2016 season, guiding the Red Sox into a postseason birth with his 22-4 record and 3.15 ERA. On Wednesday night he received the highest individual pitching honor in baseball by being named the AL Cy Young award winner for 2016 joining an illustrious list of former Red Sox pitchers to win the award (Pedro Martinez (2x), Roger Clemens (3x), and Jim Lonborg).

It’s hard not to be happy for Porcello. He was rushed to the big leagues with the Detroit Tigers at the young age of 20 with the weight of the world on his shoulders and expectations through the roof. In the 2009 MLB Top 50 prospects list rated his upside potential as “Ace, All-Star, Cy Young candidate, you name it. He’s been compared to Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander, Roy Oswalt and Josh Beckett.” No pressure kid, just follow in the footsteps of some of the best pitchers of this generation. The pressure clearly impacted Porcello’s development and he never quite reached that level of success…until now.

With 8 seasons of experience under his belt and just entering his prime at age 27, Porcello has looked better than ever. He is finally living up to the expectations and thankfully for Red Sox fans, it’s happening here in Boston. No one knows what the future will hold, but this could very well be the beginning of a special run for Porcello and the next few years may just elevate him as one of the better pitchers in baseball. He’s not flashy and won’t blow 100 mph heat past you, but is experienced, smart, and knows how to win ballgames (at least this year).

Congrats to the real ace of the Red Sox staff, Rick Porcello!

Sidenote: That 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 Detroit Tigers rotation consisted of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Rick Porcello – three Cy Young Award winners and the 3 guys that got the highest vote counts in 2016. Scherzer won the NL Cy Young this year and Verlander finished just 5 points behind Porcello for the AL crown. In 2014, David Price joined the staff, making it now 4 Cy Young award winners on the same staff (they obvious weren’t all winners at the time). Is that the best rotation in the modern era? Maybe.

A Deeper Dive on Rick Porcello

Photo from NESN

Photo from NESN

The Red Sox unexpected defacto ace and game 1 starter Rick Porcello struggled against the Indians last night allowing 5 runs in 4.1 innings. It was a tough time to have one of his worst outings of an otherwise very impressive 22-win season. Most fans were surprised at the emergence of Porcello as a #1 pitcher in 2016, but he has always shown signs of greatness, just without any real consistency and the right guidance/experience to bring it into the forefront.

Porcello made his major-league debut at the young age of 20 with the Detroit Tigers. He was an impressive 14-9 in 31 starts that season with an ERA of 3.96. Not too shabby for a young kid being thrown into the majors. He was able to begin learning from veteran guys like Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson and showed real promise. Porcello spent the following 3 years trying to match the success of his rookie campaign, but his ERA didn’t cooperate and he finished those 3 seasons with an OK 34-33 record and a mediocre 4.75 ERA. The pressure to become a top tier pitcher didn’t help his development. Instead of time learning to pitch in the minors, Porcello was forced to learn against the best players in baseball every 5 days.

After a better, but not great 13-8, 4.32 ERA 2013 campaign, Porcello entered the 2014 season with something to prove and a contract to earn. He pitched well, finished the season with 3 shutouts (the only 3 of his career) and posted a very respectable 3.43 ERA. He helped the Tigers reach the postseason, but was the odd man out in the ALDS as the Tigers got swept by the Baltimore Orioles in 3 games. To be fair, he was beat out in the rotation by the ridiculous 1-2-3 of Cy Young Award winners*, current teammate David Price, Justin Verlander, and Max Scherzer. It’s pretty damn hard to break into that top 3. Interestingly, Porcello could become the 4th member of that 2014 Tigers rotation to win a AL Cy Young Award. *Interesting fact, Verlander, Price, and Scherzer won the AL Cy Young Award in 3 consecutive years (2011, 2012, 2013), but Price won his when he was with the Tampa Bay Rays.

After the strong 2014 campaign and an overabundance of pitching, the Red Sox came calling and Porcello was traded for Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Wilson and minor-leaguer Gabe Speier. The Red Sox had Porcello under control for just one season ($12.5 million) and they wanted him locked up long-term, so offered him a huge 4 year/$82.5 million deal that would give him a base salary of $20 million a season. At the time, critics (myself included) destroyed the Red Sox for giving Porcello so much money, but the front office clearly saw the potential of a still young, but experienced MLB starter.

After spending his entire career in Detroit, the transition in 2015 was less than stellar. After a terrible 2/3 of the season an injury kept him out for most of August. Porcello returned much stronger and looked much more comfortable, as if he just needed the time to reset and adjust to Boston. His ERA dropped from 5.81 at the time of the injury to 4.92 at the end of the season in just 8 starts, putting him on the trajectory we all witnessed in 2016. Since his debut in 2009, expectations were that he would be a top of the rotation arm, so the only surprise is that it took him an extra 6 years to reach his potential. Now that he is comfortable and has learned how to pitch and not just throw, Porcello is an incredibly valuable member of the Red Sox rotation now and into the future. Even with 8 years of experience, Porcello is still just entering his prime years at age 27.

It has definitely been a long-game approach with Porcello in his career and now it is paying off. The Red Sox front office deserves credit for identifying his potential and giving him the time to grow into the role he currently holds at, or near, the top of the rotation. Last night aside, expect Rick Porcello to be a mainstay in the Red Sox rotation for years to come.

Crazy Series Finale Grows Red Sox AL East Lead

Peter Power/The Canadian Press via AP

Peter Power/The Canadian Press via AP

As a football fan it’s easy to get caught up in the early season rush and in many years past, with the Red Sox virtually eliminated by now, the attention shift was easy. Not this year. This weekend was even more important for the Red Sox than the Patriots (and college football) given the outrageously close playoff race in the AL. Entering the weekend series against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Red Sox were 1 game ahead of the Jays in the standings, 2 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles and just 4 games ahead of the surging New York Yankees. After Sunday’s crazy, but huge 11-8 victory over the Jays, the Red Sox have built a 2 game lead in the AL East, their largest division lead since May 31st (3 games ahead). With 20 games to go, it’s still a 4-way divisional race.

Sunday’s finale was a must win for both the Jays and the Red Sox. The Jays were 1 game back of the Red Sox and a W would have tied them atop the league. The game played like each team was desperate, once one team scored, the other would come back with a rally of their own. The game was 1-1 after 1, then Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a 3-run bomb in the 2nd inning to give the Red Sox a 4-1 lead. The bottom of the 3rd was Toronto’s chance to respond, getting 5 runs off of Clay Buchholz (how many times have I typed that line?) to take a 6-4 lead. The Red Sox tied it up in the top of the 4th, only to lose the lead again in the bottom of the inning on Edwin Encarnacion‘s 2nd HR of the game.

After grabbing a run back in the 5th inning, Brock Holt inexplicably tried to steal home with 2 outs in a 1 run game and gets caught leaving the game 8-7. File that in the head-scratcher category. Never fear Red Sox fans, David Ortiz is here for the rescue, hitting a 3-run HR to give the Red Sox the lead for good. They tacked on 1 more in the 7th to make it an incredibly important 11-8 wild win. That was a precursor to a day of close, but important wins in New England!

According to the ESPN calculation, the Red Sox now have an 93.4% chance of making the playoffs, which was hard to imagine a few weeks ago. The Jays have dropped to 74.5%, the Orioles at 56.7% and the Yankees still hanging in at 13.5%. All 4 teams are still within 4 games of the division lead and the Jays and Orioles are currently 2 games ahead of the Detroit Tigers and Yankees for the 2 wild card spots. There is a real chance 3 AL East teams make the postseason in 2016, but with dozens of divisional games remaining, who knows.

Encouraging Start to the Road Trip for Red Sox

drew pomeranz getty

The biggest issue for the Red Sox thus far in 2016 is winning close games and low-scoring games. On Monday afternoon, the Red Sox checked off both boxes when they beat the Cleveland Indians 3-2. The beginning of a 4-city, 11-game road trip was tight until the final out and despite some scary, heart-stopping moments from closer Craig Kimbrel, the win was extremely refreshing. Before Monday, the Red Sox were an abysmal 4-32 when scoring 3 or fewer runs. That’s an incredibly concerning trend, especially if the Red Sox hope to make the playoffs and have a chance at winning anything. Guess what the postseason is full of? Close, low-scoring games.

This 11-game road trip is pivotal for the Red Sox. The trip includes 2 games against the Baltimore Orioles who are just ahead of the Red Sox in the standings and then 4 against the Detroit Tigers who are nipping at their heals for the 2nd wildcard spot. If the Red Sox emerge from this tough road stretch at 6-5 or better, they will be in great shape as a friendlier September schedules waits around the corner. They need to carry their 4-game winning streak and all the momentum it gives them into Baltimore, because we know the Orioles will be ready for a dog fight.

The other major promising thing from Monday afternoon was Drew Pomeranz. He picked up his first win in a Red Sox uniform and looked strong through 7.2 innings. He allowed just 1 run going into the 7th, but got into a little trouble in the inning allowing his 2nd. To go along with allowing just 2 runs, he had 6 Ks, 5 hits, and just 2 BBs. Monday was just what the doctor ordered and gave fans hope that some strong performances down the stretch are not out of the question from him.

ERA Watch

wright era watch 7.22

Through 14 starts, Steven Wright had an ERA hovering a hair above 2.00 and was looking like one of the best pitchers in the AL. His following 4 starts were less than stellar, allowing 15 earned runs. We watched his ERA balloon to 2.77 (still incredibly respectable) and the conversation shifted to concern about the great run being over. Last night, Wright returned to his ace form and threw 8 innings with 9 Ks and 2 runs (1 earned) when the Red Sox needed to not tax their bullpen. It was against the terrible Minnesota Twins, but a strong outing and a return to form none-the-less. He dropped his ERA 0.10 after last night’s performance and will have a chance to shine again against the Detroit Tigers in the final game of the home stand on Tuesday.

Important Upcoming Stretch for Red Sox

AP Photo/Adam Hunger

AP Photo/Adam Hunger

After taking 2 of 3 from the New York Yankees in the Bronx and winning 8 of 11 so far in July, the Boston Red Sox face an incredibly important stretch if they hope to stay in contention and make a push for the playoffs. After an off day Monday, the Red Sox begin a 9-game home stand against the team with the best record in baseball right now, the San Francisco Giants. The quick 2-game set will be a good barometer for the Red Sox, who have faced some bad teams as of late. Following the 2-game set with the Giants, the Red Sox will face the terrible Minnesota Twins for 4 games and wrap-up the home stand with 3 against the solid Detroit Tigers.

Sitting at 12 games above .500 and 1.5 games behind the Baltimore Orioles for 1st place in the AL East, the Red Sox need to take advantage of this extended home stand. Hopefully they will stay competitive against the Giants and then pick up a few wins at the hands of the Twins. The Tigers will be a tough series, but if the Red Sox can emerge from this home stand with a 6-3 record, then I would consider it a strong success.

The home stand is also important because we get to see the debut in a Red Sox uniform of Drew Pomeranz. The lefty starter will have a big adjustment moving to the AL East, but will begin his tenure by facing the Giants, a team he has faced 9 times (7 starts). Unfortunately he has a 1-4 record with a 4.54 record against the Giants, but at least there is some familiarity with his opponent and he will have a supportive crowd behind him.

At this point in the season the Red Sox need to be focused on winning series and not worry about standings, but I’m scoreboard watching on a nightly basis. Let the fun begin.

There have been a LOT of Big Papi postseason highlights throughout his career and this is one of the best. 2013 ALCS game-tying GRAND SLAM against the Detroit Tigers!